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Back in the olden days (the late 50’s and early 60’s), I learned to do research projects, beginning with what Daddy called “The Good Books”. Mind you, this was not what many families called “The Good Book” (in other words, The Bible), but two very important sets of reference books: The Book of Knowledge (20 volumes plus study guide) and The Grolier Encyclopedia. I still remember the day those amazing books arrived at our house, accompanied by their very own bookcase (and a knowledgeable encyclopedia salesman).

Whenever a question came up about any imaginable subject, Daddy’s answer was always the same: “Go look it up in the good books.” Countless contented hours were spent in our house exploring specific or random subjects, side by side with Daddy, and then sharing our new-found knowledge with Mom. Of course, one of the things Mr. Bowman taught in fifth grade was that we needed more than one source of information when doing research, so I often continued my information search at the local public library.

The primary information source at the library was my old favorite, the card catalogue (In Praise of the Card Catalogue, . Checking there for the appropriate subject was the next step in my research (even though probably 9/10 of my information came from The Book of Knowledge). Then came the physical search on the shelf, and if I was lucky, reading material to check out and bring home.

Later on, I discovered The Readers’ Guide to Periodical Literature and the world of magazine articles opened up before me. (I also discovered how few magazines listed were actually present in my library, but that’s another tale entirely.) And in my Library Technology program and graduate research classes, an entire world of obscure guides and indexes came to life.

That was then. But the times they are a changing.

Tonight I started identifying and studying a number of dolls I am using for my April Fools’ Day program at the Cuesta Doll & Study Club, dolls I am simply referring to as “novelty dolls”. I sat down at my computer and headed immediately to eBay. Typing in a general description of the doll using whatever information I had (for example, Ideal Super hero figure, 1977), eBay presented me with about 25 possibilities with photographs, descriptions, and current bidding information. When none matched the critter in my hands (a black figure with a helmet over his face, black space-type suit with cape, articulated hands and feet), I needed to change my search criteria. I asked my family what they knew, and my son-in-law said, “He doesn’t look like Darth Vader.” Useful information? Perhaps.

So I typed in, “Ideal Darth Vader figure”, and started scrolling down the photos until I found him: A S.T.A.R. Team Knight of Darkness action figure, made by Ideal Toys in 1977 – 1979, with the silvery fabric on his tunic wearing off in the same place my guy’s was. Now that I had a name for him, I Googled “S.T.A.R. Team Knight of Darkness” and was rewarded by a listing at Toysyouhad.com

The Space Travel And Reconnaissance Team figure was shown in his original packaging, with his special Captain Action Flash Gordon laser pistol (my guy is missing his pistol and his boots, however). Not quite instant gratification, but certainly much faster than a trip to the library and a search through Ideal toy catalogs (if my library even had any) until I found a matching figure.

Tomorrow I will continue my search, hopefully finding at least one more source of information on this guy…because it is still prudent to double-check information, especially information found on the Internet. But I probably won’t have to leave my chair in order to do it. I will do the same for the other eight dolls I have chosen for my presentation, before writing up my results and printing them out — all from the comfort of my home computer.

Yes, the times they are a changing. I wonder what research will look like by the time my granddaughters are in college?